JERUSALEM (Oct. 9)
Israeli security forces warned this week of a possible outbreak of Jewish extremist violence to protest the planned opening of a mosque at an archaeological site beneath the Temple Mount.
The warnings came two weeks after Israel opened a new entrance to an ancient tunnel near the Temple Mount, sparking three days of violence that left 15 Israelis and 60 Palestinians dead and put the future of the peace process in doubt.
The warnings came in the wake of reports that officials from the Wakf, which administers Islamic holy sites on the Temple Mount, have for the past few months been quietly overseeing renovation of the site known as “Solomon’s Stables” into a mosque able to accommodate thousands of Muslim worshipers. The mosque is reportedly scheduled to be opened next week.
There have been numerous reports that the previous Labor government had sought a deal with the Palestinian Authority under which Israel would open the tunnel entrance in exchange for granting the Wakf the right to open a mosque at Solomon’s Stables.
But those talks proved inconclusive, the reports said.
In January, the Wakf asked then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres for permission to hold Ramadan services at the site, saying that inclement weather and inadequate accommodations made it difficult to hold them on the Temple Mount, according to the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot.
Peres agreed, on the condition that the Wakf “not make any noise” when Israel opened the tunnel entrance, Yediot said.
It was not clear that the Wakf agreed to this understanding, but prayers did take place there during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of daily fasting.
In subsequent months, the Wakf continued renovation work at the site to create a permanent mosque.
In response to this, the Jerusalem municipality issued a work stoppage order. But the work continued, prompting a right-wing Jewish group, the Temple Mount Faithful, to petition the High Court of Justice two weeks ago.
The court has yet to issue a ruling on the matter.
Meanwhile, the Israel Antiquities Authority said some of the work being done at the site by the Wakf, including the installation of lighting, loudspeakers and a floor, had caused damage to the archaeological site.
Originally built by King Herod, the vast underground complex measuring some 6,000 square feet, has no connection to King Solomon. Nor is there proof it was ever used to house horses.
But during the time of the Crusaders, “the Jewish traveler Benjamin Metudaela was the first to point out that you could put horses and camels in the site,” said archaeologist Meir Ben Dov.